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Cloris Leachman, Beloved Emmy and Oscar Winner, Dies at 94

Leachman was known for roles in Young Frankenstein and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, among others.

Cloris Leachman
(image via Wikimedia Commons)

Beloved Oscar and Emmy winner Cloris Leachman has died of natural causes at the age of 94.

Born in Iowa, Leachman got her start as a child actor at the Des Moines Little Theatre. She attended Northwestern University and, after competing in the Miss America pageant in 1946, moved to New York to study with Elia Kazan at the Actors Studio. At the beginning of her career, she understudied in Broadway plays Happy Birthday and John Loves Mary, and won a Theatre World Award in 1951 for her performance in A Story for a Sunday Evening.

Leachman's Broadway résumé throughout the 1950s included the roles of Nellie Forbush in South Pacific (assuming the role in 1952) and Sara Melody in Eugene O'Neill's A Touch fo the Poet (taking on the role in 1959). She appeared in the out-of-town tryouts of William Inge's Come Back, Little Sheba and Arthur Miller's The Crucible, but bowed out of both productions before they could reach Broadway.

However, Leachman was about to launch an extremely prosperous screen career. She won eight Primetime Emmy Awards from 22 nominations, most notably for playing Phyllis Lindstrom on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, a role that subsequently led the spinoff Phyllis. She also earned Emmys for appearing in the TV film A Brand New Life, Cher's self-titled variety show, the drama series Promised Land, and Malcom in the Middle.

In film, Leachman won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for The Last Picture Show in 1971, and made an indelible mark as Frau Blücher (neigh) in Mel Brooks's Young Frankenstein. At 81, she apparently auditioned for Brooks to play the role in his Broadway musical adaptation, but the role was cast with Andrea Martin instead.

Leachman was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 2011 and she never stopped working. She appeared in an episode of the Mad About You reboot in 2019, and has a handful of now-posthumous films slated for release in 2021 and beyond.

Her survivors include three sons and a daughter.


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